The Falcon and the Winter Soldier has arrived — and fans are already wondering where it's going within the greater MCU. But maybe the new Disney Plus series doesn't need to lead into a movie or a future series. I think The Falcon and the Winter Soldier could work as Marvel's first procedural and play out over the course of multiple seasons, in a way that predecessor WandaVision never could.
Marvel actually intended to debut The Falcon and the Winter Soldier as its first Disney Plus show, but it wasn't finished filming when the pandemic locked down productions. Meanwhile, WandaVision was complete and got the go-ahead. It was kismet, because WandaVision wound up being the better choice to usher in Marvel's new television era. It was a love letter to television itself, paying homage to classic family sitcoms, while deploying the puzzle box strategies of past serialized hits like Lost.
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The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is much more straightforward. Within minutes of the first episode, The Falcon aka Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), engages in an MCU movie-like action sequence, chasing down a plane on how own. He then fights off helicopters and flight-suit-wearing terrorists to rescue a captured military liaison.
Then, back at home, Sam deals with more mundane matters regarding his family's fishing business, though they're just as brutal, emotionally-speaking. As for The Winter Soldier half of the episode, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) is grappling with the trauma he experienced for the last century as the brainwashed agent of HYDRA.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier certainly uses the MCU movies as a jumping off point. Thanos' snap and the resulting five-year blip are a huge part of the story. But there's not as much of a sense that the show has a certain destination point, unlike WandaVision, which was driving right to Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier would make a great procedural
It was clear from early on that WandaVision season 2 was an unlikely possibility, and not just because Feige had announced it was leading into the next Doctor Strange movie. As the episodes dropped, the story revealed that Wanda had created an entire alternate reality to process her grief. At some point, the WandaVision show-within-a-show was bound to end (plus, you know, it got to current-day sitcoms), and with it, WandaVision the Disney Plus show likely ends as well.
But Falcon and Winter Soldier is better suited as an ongoing series. They're Captain America's friends, who are not so friendly themselves, and the pairing calls to mind similar procedurals that team up two very different personalities — think Miami Vice, Starsky and Hutch or The X-Files. I can totally see Sam and Bucky tackling a new "case of the week," a season-long "big bad" and the issues in their personal lives for years.
Both of the show's titular characters have played second fiddle for years across several movies. Even after just one episode, I'm intrigued to see their stories play out. On his own, Sam has enough going on — his family troubles, the need to prove himself worthy of Captain America's shield, the underlying racial tension hinted at in the bank scene.
Throw on Bucky's therapy sessions (which feels very Tony Soprano-esque), his foray into modern dating and the desire to make amends for his past actions and we've got like a good three or four seasons of material at the least.
But is that something Marvel wants?
After all, they pulled the plug on their Netflix-verse Defenders shows — though that probably had more to do with keeping all of their IP in house. Maybe I'm one of the few people that actually liked Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, but they proved that longform superhero storytelling can work.
Interestingly, DC has had the opposite experience of its comics rival. It's launched a handful of successful TV shows on The CW (starting with Arrow, which ran for eight seasons), while its DCEU film franchise has struggled.
Not every Marvel series needs to be a movie prologue
Marvel boss Kevin Feige has been cagey about which (if any) of the Disney Plus series will get a multiple seasons. That would enter "the spoiler realm," he told Entertainment Weekly. "We have a future charted for characters post-Falcon and the Winter Soldier, but I don't want to say much more than that."
But showrunner Malcolm Spellman did tease that The Falcon and the Winter Soldier still tie into several Marvel projects. "I can think of three that I'm not allowed to talk about," he noted.
So, what are those three projects? The Falcon and the Winter Soldier premiere episode features Don Cheadle's James Rhodes, aka War Machine, who should be a part of the upcoming Armor Wars series. Rumors are circulating of an appearance by Florence Pugh, who plays Yelena Belova in the upcoming Black Widow film.
And then, there's a lot of speculation that The Falcon and the Winter Soldier might introduce the X-Men. Feige recently told EW, "There's a setting in particular that people have already glimpsed in some of the trailers that is a setting from the Marvel Comics that was not previously available to us, but it's more of an Easter egg in and of itself."
"Not previously available to us" is code for "it used to belong to 20th Century Fox," the studio that owned the film rights to Marvel's X-Men and Fantastic Four characters. But ever since Disney bought the studio a few years ago, fans have been feverishly waiting for news on how the X-Men might cross over into the MCU.
If Marvel is planning to use The Falcon and the Winter Soldier simply as a platform to launch a new X-Men or Fantastic Four franchise, that would be a real shame. Let the Falcon and the Winter Soldier soar.
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